Irene Scharrer: The complete electric and selected acoustic recordings: The Matthay School Volume 3
Track listing below
APR 6010 [79:53 + 78:06]
I have no doubt that this will be the most revelatory release thus far in APR’s ‘The Matthay Pupils’ series. Irene Scharrer (1888-1971) is probably little more than a name for some, and for most she won’t even be that. For those who collect recordings on 78, her musicianship and brilliance will need no puffing from me. If she’s remembered from her recordings it’s really only the one, and that was ironically the last she made, Litolff’s Scherzo from the Concerto symphonique with Henry Wood accompanying. It was a massive seller, set down in 1933. In the booklet notes Stephen Siek speculates that she abandoned her career soon after this, but she did still play on, as he mentions, though her career did, it’s true, trail off. She gave her last concert with her old friend Myra Hess in 1958. Hess was another Tobias Matthay student whose recordings are upcoming in this series, and it’s often been suggested that Scharrer and Hess were cousins, but this isn’t so; just friends. I wonder, regarding the apparent abandonment of Scharrer’s career, whether she was one of many distinguished British artists culled or curtailed by EMI around the time of her last recording, especially those - like Scharrer - who were recording for Columbia, subsumed along with HMV into EMI but which had less clout internationally. If so, this would have significant bearing on her apparent semi-invisibility in British musical life after the mid 1930s.
She was simply a marvellous musician. Thinking of some other celebrated British pianists of that time, she was more at ease in the studio than Hess, more vivacious and much more musicianly than Harriet Cohen (also in this series), less sober-suited than (the excellent) Evlyn Howard-Jones, more mercurial than Harold Samuel, and more dramatic than William Murdoch.
We have in this 2 CD set her complete electric recordings and a selection of her HMV acoustics. Yes, completists will be disappointed, even though the acoustics not included were all re-made electrically some years later. Thus all her recorded sides are here, one way or another. We progress from the HMV electrics to the Columbias and finish with those selective 1912-24 HMV acoustics. It’s difficult to know where to start, so as not to over-burden the reader with a litany of praise.
The first thing to say is that she sounds unusually self-possessed in the studio and even when the take numbers of her published sides are quite high, one doesn’t feel at all that this was down to nerves or digital sloppiness; maybe a desire for pinpoint accuracy, which is perfectly reasonable. Another thing is her sheer vivacity and verve, as the opening Purcell/Henderson Toccata, Prelude,Sarabande and Minuet amply show. The last is much better than Cortot’s recording of 1937. Her Scarlatti (three sonatas) is lively. She plays Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring in a way very different to Myra Hess’s slightly earlier 1928 recording, bringing out inner and unexpected voicings that I don’t recall hearing from anyone else. Her sole sonata recording is here, Mozart’s G major, K283. It had a protracted history, begun in December 1926, returned to in January 1927 and only completed in January 1929. It was worth the wait - thoughtful and sensitive playing. One of her acoustic ‘hits’ was Sinding’s evergreen Rustle of Spring and her 1927 remake is, if anything, even more vivacious. Liszt’s Hungarian rhapsody No.12 shows plenty of fire and temperament from a pianist in the studio whilst her Mendelssohn Andante and Rondo Capriccioso is first sonorous and then fleet, aerial and ebullient.
She recorded more of Chopin than of any other composer and these sequences alone alert one to the distinction of her playing. Maybe the ubiquity of some of her later electrics has led to a critical blind spot about her, or maybe she was for too long seen as a footnote in Myra Hess’s life. Whatever the reason, her stature will certainly need to be re-evaluated here and in the recordings of other composers’ work. The Fantaisie-Impromptu reveals another quality: the quality of a seeming spontaneity. Galvanised by freshness of tempi, richness of chording, canny rubati and a control of dynamics, all these things elevate her playing to a remarkable degree. Many of her Chopin recordings were made in 1933 and are deliciously characterised, the Etudes in particular being revealing documents. She recorded nine of the twenty-four and not one is less than impressive.
Five more Chopin pieces occur in the acoustically recorded part of the second disc. There is the slow movement from the Sonata No.2, an abridgement - but what remains is fine - of the Nocturne in C minor, Op.48 No.1. The earliest recording was made in September 1912 and is Liszt’s Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes with Landon Ronald, though it is, as was customary, significantly abridged. There’s some blasting, one of the rare examples in the set. Three years later she recorded the Allegro scherzando from Saint-Saëns Concerto No.2 with Henry Wood, which was in better shape, and sounds to have been better recorded too. Her Debussy is here, Reflets dans l’eau and Poissons d’or from Images, idiomatically sound and full of colour; both are from 1924. Her Cyril Scott piece, Danse nègre is wittily vivacious.
With that fine essay booklet and Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers, no expense has been spared to ensure the listener has been provided with excellent documentary material and first-class transfers. Let us hope that this set occasions a critical re-evaluation of Irene Scharrer, one of Britain’s great pianists.
The HMV Electrics 1925-1929
1 PURCELL/HENDERSON Toccata-Prelude, Sarabande & Minuet [4.27]
2 PARADIES Toccata in A major [1.58]
3-5 SCARLATTI Sonatas Kk1, Kk11 & Kk159 [5.17]
6 BACH/HESS Jesu, joy of man’s desiring [3.26]
7 BOYCE/CRAXTON Gavotte [2.47]
8-10 MOZART Sonata in G major K283 [11.22]
11 MENDELSSOHN Spinning song Op 67/4 [1:33]
12 CHOPIN: Etude Op 10/5 [1.36]
13 Waltz in E minor Op posth [2.26]
14 Impromptu No 1 Op 29 [3.54]
15 Fantaisie-Impromptu Op 66 [4.27]
16 SINDING Rustle of spring Op 32/3 [2.24]
17 DEBUSSY Arabesque No 2 [3.03]
The Columbia Electrics 1929-1933
18 MENDELSSOHN Andante and Rondo Capriccioso Op 14 [6.04]
19 LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No 12 [8.00]
20 VERDI/LISZT Rigoletto Paraphrase [6.38]
21 CHOPIN: Fantaisie-Impromptu Op 66 [4.18]
22 Etude Op 10/11 [3.25]
23 Etude Op 10/12 [2.46]
The Columbia Electrics 1929-1933 continued
1 Etude Op 25/1 [2.28]
2 Etude Op 25/9 [1.03]
3 Etude Op 25/6 [2.14]
4 Etude Op 25/11 ‘Winter Wind’ [3.44]
5 Etude Op 25/12 [2.46]
6 Trois Nouvelles Etudes - No 1 [2.27]
7 Trois Nouvelles Etudes - No 2 [1.54]
8 Scherzo No 2 Op 31 [6.57]
9 LITOLFF Scherzo from Concerto Symphonique, Op 102 London Symphony Orchestra/Henry Wood [5.46]
A selection of HMV acoustics 1912-1924
10 SCARLATTI Sonata in G major Kk14 [1.27]
11 BACH Prelude and Fugue No 3 in C sharp major BWV848 [3.34]
12 CHOPIN: Nocturne Op 48/1 [4.35]
13 Prelude Op 28/8 [2.07]
14 Etude Op 25/2 [1.29]
15 Funeral March from Sonata No 2, Op 35 [3.39]
16 Waltz Op 64/1 [1.46]
17 SCHUMANN Intermezzo from Faschingsschwank aus Wien, Op 26
18 LISZT Gnomenreigen [2.50]
19 LISZT Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Themes S123 [abridged] New Symphony Orchestra/Landon Ronald [7.41]
20 SAINT-SAËNS Allegro scherzando from Concerto No 2, Op 22 [abridged] New Symphony Orchestra/Landon Ronald [4.06]
21 DEBUSSY Reflets dans l’eau [Images, Book 1 No 1] [4.07]
22 DEBUSSY Poissons d’or [Images, Book 2 No 3] [3.45]
23 SCOTT Danse nègre [1.39]
24 GOODHART ‘Tipperary’ - Five Variations [3.28]
Irene Scharrer, one of Britain’s great pianists.
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